To The Victoria Falls
Development of the Victoria Falls
The following text is adapted from 'Footsteps Through Time - A History of Travel and Tourism to the Victoria Falls', researched and written by Peter Roberts and published in 2017. Please visit the Zambezi Book Company website for more information.
British Royal Family visit, 1947
In 1947 the British Royal Tour of the Union of South Africa included the Victoria Falls, with Their Majesties King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, and their two daughters, Their Royal Highnesses the Princess Elizabeth (now the reigning monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret, all staying at the Falls Hotel, which was reserved entirely for their use.
It was the first overseas state visit since 1939 and was celebrated with much pomp and fanfare. The young Princess Elizabeth also celebrated her 21st birthday during the tour. South African Railways provided a newly built Royal Train, the Garratt locomotives of which were painted deep royal blue and which were used throughout the tour of Rhodesia.
External Link: Pathe News Report - The Royal Tour at the Victoria Falls.
The Royal Train heading for Victoria Falls behind a 15th Class Garrett. 1947 [From Croxton, 1973]
Staying at the Victoria Falls Hotel over the Easter weekend, the Royal party celebrated divine service in the Hotel chapel. The visit was a welcome break following many public engagements during the tour, and repeated visits were made to the Falls.
“The Royal Family visited the Falls on two separate days. They saw them under the sun and under the moon, from the level of the upper river, and from that of the gorge. They walked through the so-called ‘Rain Forest’ opposite the Main Falls, where the spray forms a perpetual cloud, and where the King remarked that for the first time in his life he had been soaked even through his hat.” (Morrah, 1947)
Their Majesties’ suite was on the first floor of the south wing, which for many years after was known as the Queen’s Suite, and the Princesses suite located on the ground floor of the same wing.
On 11th April 1947, the day dubbed by the Livingstone Mail as the ‘most important day in the history of the town,’ the Royal Party visited Livingstone, for the afternoon at least, crossing the river in the Hotel’s launch, Daphne. Flying the Royal Standard, the party sailed up to the Zambezi Boat Club on the northern bank, escorted upstream by the state barge of Barotseland Paramount Chief, Litunga Imwiko. The road from the river was resurfaced and re-named the Royal Mile in honour of the occasion.
“From the point of view of watchers on the northern bank, where Sir John Waddington, the Governor of Northern Rhodesia, was waiting, the launch flying the Royal Banner came into view round the eastern end of the largest of the many islands, called Long Island, and simultaneously, from the mouth of the tributary Maramba, appeared the state barge of Imwiko, Paramount Chief of the Barotse, the largest group of tribes in Northern Rhodesia.” (Morrah, 1947)
The spectacular view of the Victoria Falls, Rhodesia impresses the Royal Family
Several islands and special locations were named after the Royal visit:
“His late Majesty, King George VI expressed a desire to have some of the islands in the Zambesi named after his family; Long Island [also known as Siloka or Loando Island] was renamed King George VI Island, Kalai Island became Queen Elizabeth Island, Siachikola Island became Princess Elizabeth Island... His Majesty also renamed Dale’s Kopje, Queen Elizabeth Kopje.” (Clark, 1952)
Another island was also named after Princess Margaret. The Hotel’s landing stage was renamed in honour of the visit, becoming known as the King’s Landing Stage and Boat House. Her Royal Highness Princess Marie Louise, daughter of Princess Helena and grand-daughter to Queen Victoria, visited Livingstone and the Falls in 1955, also having an island named after her.
The Council resolved to name the road from Mosi-O-Tunya Road to the Boat Club in Livingstone 'The Royal Mile' (now Sichango Road).
In 1947 the Northern Rhodesia Government invited the South African Tourist Corporation (SATC) to assess the country’s tourism potential with the aim to develop the country as a prime tourism destination. The report highlight the poor state of existing tourism infrastructure, urging improvements to Livingstone’s roads, railway station and hotels (Moonga 1999).
Lack of suitable standard hotel accommodation caused acute problems during the Royal Visit in 1947, and the Livingstone Mail of 24th January 1948 highlighted the poor state of the town’s road network. In July the paper printed the contrasting experiences of one visiting tourist:
“I was much struck by the difference between the gateway approaching to the Victoria Falls from Southern Rhodesia and that of Northern Rhodesia’s neglect. On the Southern Rhodesia side the Victoria Falls station was clean... no wonder tourists hurried down the path to the nearby hotel... Livingstone station offers no such thrill... sordid is the word (which) best fits the entrance to Livingstone by railway... a shabby and miskept station.” (Livingstone Mail, July 1948)
In the year of the Royal visit, 1947, Southern Rhodesia recorded over 38,000 tourist arrivals. By contrast, Northern Rhodesia received less than half this number, recording 15,000 visitors arrivals.
In 1948 the Northern Rhodesia National Monuments Commission established the Victoria Falls Conservancy Committee to manage the area of the Falls on the northern bank. The protected area was extended downstream to Songwe Gorge (confirmed in legislation on 4th April 1949).
For a period in the 1950s tourists were allowed to descend down the Power Station rail-trolley to the bottom of the gorge.
“The trolley service allows half an hour stay at the bottom of the gorge but visitors are not permitted into the power station itself… The trolley, which is really far more comfortable than it looks at first glance is hauled up and down a well set track by a winch. The track is 850 feet [259 m] long and descends a vertical height of 350 feet [106 m]. There are 406 steps at the side of the track which provides descent for about half of the way down the steepest drop, but the rest of the route is a sloping pathway.” (Woods, 1960)